Imaging services are an integral part of all Belfast hospitals, providing a full range of medical imaging and diagnostic services, from routine x-rays, specialist scans including CT and MRI, to interventional procedures.
Plain film imaging (x-rays)
These x-rays are usually quite straightforward and involve a part of your body being placed as close to the x-ray film or plate as possible. These x-rays are similar to having a photograph taken.
They can be used to:
- look for broken bones or teeth
- investigate pain
- look at your lungs and heart
They are generally taken by a radiographer and reported on by a radiologist or reporting radiographer.
X-rays are usually requested by your GP or by the doctor or dentist within the hospital who is responsible for your medical care.
CT scanning involves using x-rays and computers to produce images of internal organs. It takes many cross-section images, building up a picture of any body part and can produce detailed 3D images of things like bones, blood vessels, heart, growths and tumours.
Sometimes you will be asked not to eat anything prior to your appointment if this is the case you will receive instructions with your appointment letter. You may be given something to drink prior to your exam. You may also need to have a dye injected into a vein in your arm to show the blood vessels and organs.
The length of your scan may vary depending on the area of your body being scanned. Allow at least two hours for your appointment. You will not be given the results of your scan immediately. The radiologist will examine the scans and send a detailed report through to the doctor who referred you. The results will then be discussed at your next appointment.
Magnetic and radio waves take detailed pictures of the soft tissue parts of the body like muscles, tendons and the spinal cord.
For abdominal and pelvic scans you can’t eat or drink for six hours before your appointment. You’ll be informed if this is the case.
Scans can take anything from 30 minutes to an hour depending on what is being scanned, but again you’ll be informed of this. You will not be given the results of your scan immediately. The radiologist will examine the scans and send a detailed report through to the doctor who referred you. The results will then be discussed at your next appointment.
High frequency sound waves reflect off the body to produce images of internal organs. A gel is applied to the area and a probe producing sound waves is rubbed over the body. Some scans may be internal, but you’ll be informed of this.
Some scans require special preparation beforehand but you’ll be informed of this prior to your appointment.
The scans usually last 15 to 30 minutes. Results are usually sent to the doctor who referred you.
Ultrasound and pregnancy
Radiographers are also involved in performing scans during pregnancy. Ultrasound is very safe and can give detailed images of the developing foetus at various stages of the pregnancy. The obstetrical unit is responsible for organising these scans and women are generally offered two scans during their pregnancy; at booking and again at 18 to 20 weeks. Other scans may be performed as required at any stage of the pregnancy.
Nuclear medicine scans
Nuclear imaging plays a key role in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and heart patients. Radioactive substances are used as the radiation can be picked up by a special gamma camera.
The cameras do more than look at the structure of the body – they examine how the body is reacting and functioning.
Barium is a special liquid which is used by the x-ray department to demonstrate the digestive system. For barium meals/swallows you will be asked to drink the liquid and x-ray images will be taken with you standing and lying in various positions. This enables the radiologist to visualise the gullet and stomach.
To image the small bowel you will have images taken over a period of several hours. To image the large bowel (intestine) barium must be introduced into the back passage, along with some air, and again a series of images are taken. These procedures last approximately 30 minutes.
Bone density scans - Dexa
A bone density scan is used to test for loss of bone mineral density. It is a short x-ray procedure which requires you to lie on a table and have an x-ray of your lumbar spine and your hip.
The results of the scan will be given to you by the person who referred you for the scan or by a member of the nursing staff.
These are specialist x-ray procedures used to investigate and treat conditions such as vascular disease, cancer, biopsies of various structures and the treatment of emergency conditions.
The procedure will be explained to you in depth by the referring clinician and also by the radiologist performing the procedure. Some of these procedures are performed as day cases whilst others require may require an overnight stay in the hospital.
The symptomatic Breast Imaging Service includes triple assessment clinics, family history screening mammograms, post-surgical review mammograms and under 35 year old ultrasound clinics.
A mammogram is an x-ray image of your breasts. It can be used either for breast cancer screening or for diagnostic purposes, such as to investigate symptoms or unusual findings on another imaging test. During a mammogram, your breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces to spread out the breast tissue. Then an X-ray captures black-and-white images that are displayed on a computer screen and examined for signs of cancer or other pathology.
Women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited every three years to attend the National Breast Screening Programme to have a mammogram.
A mammogram is a special x-ray of the breast and is used to detect any changes in the breast. You will be asked to undress to the waist and a female radiographer will take two x-rays of each breast. The breast needs to be compressed in order to get the best possible image. This can be slightly uncomfortable for some women but lasts only seconds.
The procedure takes about 10 minutes in total. You will not receive your results on the day of the x-ray but will receive the results in the post usually within the following two weeks. Some women may be recalled to have further tests if any changes are found in the breast.
This is not an indication that you have breast cancer. Some changes in the breast are benign but these still need to be investigated.
This may entail further x-ray images, an ultrasound test or a needle biopsy test.
Royal College of Radiologists
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